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Tribal leaders in Oklahoma reject governor's extension plan

SEAN MURPHY

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Leaders from nearly every Oklahoma-based Indian tribe that has a gambling compact with the state on Thursday rejected Gov. Kevin Stitt's offer to extend the compacts for an additional eight months.

Flanked by leaders from 32 separate tribes, Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Chairman Matthew Morgan said the tribes are united in their rejection of Stitt's offer.

“We stand united today against the proposed extension by Gov. Stitt as utterly unnecessary, given the automatic renewal," Morgan said.

Stitt and the tribes are locked in a disagreement about whether the 15-year compacts between the tribes and the state expire on Jan. 1. Stitt says they do and wants to renegotiate for the state to get a larger slice of casino revenue.

But the tribes contend all the requirements have been met for the compacts to automatically renew on Jan. 1 for another 15 years. Morgan said Oklahoma-based casinos will be open for business as usual on Jan. 1.

Stitt said he refused to give up hope.

“I am disappointed that the tribes turned our offer down and refused our requests to negotiate new compact terms that better address the parties' changing needs," Stitt said in a statement Thursday. “I will continue to work to protect the state's interests, and I hope that those running the casino industry will negotiate with the state in good faith as these compacts demand."

Both sides are increasingly signaling that the dispute is likely to end up in federal court. Stitt said Tuesday that he is finalizing an agreement with a law firm experienced in tribal litigation.

Oklahoma’s current gambling compacts call for the tribes to pay between 4% and 10% of a casino’s net revenue in “exclusivity fees,” which give tribes the exclusive rights to operate casinos in the state. Those fees generated nearly $139 million in payments to the state last year on roughly $2.3 billion in revenue from games covered under the compacts.